Maybe I was naïve, ignorant, or just hopeful, but I didn’t think it would be this hard. I hoped I could just sit under another pastor’s teaching and be ministered to. I hoped I could just let the Spirit wash over me in worship. I hoped I’d make some new friends, reconnect with some old ones, and be refreshed in relationships. But after nearly 8 months since stepping out of the pastorate, I’m finding it extremely difficult to be just “going to church” for the first time in 18 years.
In some ways the feelings of discomfort I have with going to church again are good. It reminds me of how incredibly awkward it must feel for a non-church-going person to walk into a church for the first time. It’s extremely uncomfortable. I don’t know where things are. I don’t know who to talk to. I don’t know what to do with myself. So, I shuffle around with all the other awkward people, hoping nobody singles me out.
Then I bump into someone who knows me only as “Pastor Jeff.” They tilt their head to the side like a puppy and ask sympathetically, “How are you doing?” Good. I’m good. Yep. Everything’s great now. What am I going to say in the middle of a crowded church foyer? What is anybody going to say? The polite superficiality is so unbearably awkward.
Then there’s the worship service, which I didn’t thoughtfully plan out the elements and flow of, coordinate with the worship leader, or prepare the message for. I’m just there. Nothing more than a spectator. I spend the entire time crawling in my skin. Sometimes it’s so excruciating that I have to get up in the middle of the sermon and walk around.
Is this how other people feel at church?
My relationship with God has been tied to what I do for so long. I’m a pastor. That’s how God and I dance. I don’t know how to relate to God as “just Jeff.” I have to learn how to dance with God again. I’m an incredibly awkward dancer.
Every time I go to church it’s a painful reminder of what was, what wasn’t, and what will never be. Sometimes I’m sad because I see things that I know I can do or say much better. I’m not being prideful (okay, maybe a little bit). God has just gifted me to do and say some things well and I did. I remember how it used to be. I remember how God used me in mighty ways to lead many people to Him. But now I feel as useless as a snowmobile in the desert. That’s hard.
Some churches are doing amazing things in the community. They’re offering incredible ministries and doing impactful outreach. I want to celebrate that! And I can. For about 10 seconds before I start lamenting, “that was my vision.” I had hoped to do what they’re doing. I had hoped to be used by God like they are being. But those hopes have been dashed upon the rocks. For now. That hurts.
Then there are those dreams I had specifically for my church that now will never be. It’s not just that I’m not doing it anymore or didn’t get to do it. It’s that I’ll never be able to do it. Not in that specific context anyway. That dream is dead.
Sure, they’ll be other dreams. I look forward to whatever God has next. I’m sure it will be incredible. But hope for the future doesn’t negate the pain of the present.
For the past few years I’ve referred to myself as a “recovering cynic.” I guess this is what they call “relapse.” I know cynicism isn’t really a healthy state to live in, so I hope to not stay here long. But here I am. For now. I’m cynical.
I wonder if we’re missing the point. Or at least the mark. It seems like so much effort. So much money. So much time. For such little result. Are we really making any difference? Or at least a big enough difference to justify the tremendous effort? I know some churches are having a huge impact in their community. But is anybody really making a “killing” without killing themselves? Really? Everywhere I look I see people worn down and stressed out with trying to do good things for God. Maybe I’m just projecting my feelings onto others. I know. I know. I’m cynical.
I DO LOVE THE CHURCH. I want that to be clear. I still believe in Her. I still believe the Church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. I just wonder if we’ve lost the ability to genuinely offer sustaining hope to a hopeless world. Hope that extends beyond a catchy worship chorus, well-crafted sermon, outreach event, or service project. I know. I know. Some churches and Christians are doing it. But I’m cynical. Remember?
I wish it was different. Maybe I’m not humble enough. Or submissive enough. Maybe I don’t have enough faith. Or enough strength. I don’t know. It’s just where I’m at right now.
I do hope that God will use me again to minister real hope to the lost. I look forward to that day. Somehow, someway, I’m sure God will use this present darkness to shine future light.